It’s impossible to come away from a Camille O Sullivan show without being a tiny bit in love. That’s just a given, as I saw on Saturday night with the audience in Dolans Warehouse. This lady is smart, sassy, funny, talented and, yep, sexy.
What’s not to like?
I hate people as talented as Camille O Sullivan. I really do. It annoys me to the point of gnawing my kneecaps that such people exist, the kind of folk who simply decide to excel at whatever they choose. Let’s see now, what will I pick to be great at?
I hate that, on behalf of the rest of us drab, lumpen masses who manage to be half-good at something boring and obscure, but as Camille works her charming, mid-European magic on us, my rage evaporates and I buy into the project just like everyone else, especially since it comes with a twist. Or should I say, it comes with a twist on me.
You see, and this arises from my own ignorance, I was expecting an evening of songs in the Jacques Brel style, full of drama and theatre, and I was only half wrong. There was theatre, there was drama and there was Brel. But there was also a good root around the other kings of modern music, from Nick Cave through Tom Waits, on to Dylan and even a little Cohen. There was torch singing, there was raw old-style blues and there was a surprising amount of clowning around.
I like that. I like rubber donkey-heads and dissonant toy piano playing.
Most of all, I like Camille’s powerful, clear voice and commitment to living the moment. She inhabits the Port of Amsterdam in a way I’ve never experienced, and it can’t be easy for a professional musician to perform a song the way Camille presented this one. Shaky, slightly off-key, unaccompanied, the performer becomes the pathetic, hardened Amsterdam prostitute singing in some filthy quayside hovel.
Camille puts life into Josh Groban’s Galileo. The song tends towards the saccharine and often gives me hives but Camille makes it real, just as, in his own way, the unique Jack L used to do, in a very different manner. Jack and Camille are not a million miles apart in their approach to music, which is why I feel little familiar frissons as I listen to this show. Camille treats us to a resounding, syncopated rendition of Tom Waits’s All The World is Green, surprises us us through Hurt, Trent Reznor’s heart-tearingly honest Nine-Inch Nails anthem, and seduces us on into Nick Cave’s Ship Song.
What’s this all about? This is Weimar. This is mittel-europa. This is the sort of decadent, bawdy, double-meaning cabaret we longed for all our lives, fine musicianship with a wink and a leer, before the deluge overtakes all of us, but what does it all mean?
The clue, I think, might lie in Cave’s astounding Mercy Seat, not covered by Camille in this show, or on the new album, but nevertheless performed by her elsewhere and with good reason. This is a dark song, but beautifully constructed. A short story in musical verse and something very much in tune with the notion of the current tour: to inhabit tense, condensed little stories for a little musical while.
Because I love this song so much, why not have a quick listen here? Johnny Cash also covered it on the American recordings and so the pattern becomes more clear as the evening goes on.
Why do I say the pattern becomes clear? Because the Brel influence is always there, and so is the Cave influence. Tom Waits has never made a secret of his indebtedness and the show ends with Cohen’s Anthem, which is likewise no accident. Brel feeds into Waits and to Cohen. Cave has always proclaimed how much Lenny meant to him, growing up in rural Warracknabeal (population 2490). His sister Julie had a Cohen album, turning the the entire family into avant garde freaks in the public mind and young Nicholas never looked back.
Meanwhile, Johnny Cash was covering not only The Mercy Seat on American, but also Hurt.
It’s all of a piece but I’m not going to do spoilers here. There’s lots more besides in this fine show, and I wish I had enough time to describe everything, but I don’t. All I can do is leave you with a few inadequate words and a few scratchy pictures.
Go along and support Camille. You will not regret this.